Suddenly Sven

A chat with KARE 11 weatherman Sven Sundgaard

There are a lot of weather geeks in Minnesota. I’m one of them. I’ve always been fascinated by cloud formations, severe weather and the powers of meteorologists. I caught up with one of the Twin Cities’ most popular TV weather forecasters — Sven Sundgaard — earlier in the summer, at Thomas Beach on Lake Calhoun to chat about our shared passion. The KARE 11 personality lives on the edge of Southwest and spends a lot of time running around the city’s Chain of Lakes training for marathons. Sundgaard, 26, says he knew he wanted to be a meteorologist since the age of 13. He’s worked a KARE for a year and a half. Below are highlights of the interview.

SWJ: What got you into [weather]?

SS: I love everything about science. Every scientist has this natural curiosity. … I think that’s the added element of the weather — forecasting something physical in a very dynamic way. It’s a challenge. It’s like a constant game. So I think that appeals to and intrigues everyone who goes into the field.

To be at such a big market at your age, is that rare?

SS: Absolutely. It’s very rare to make that jump so early on. Like with anything, half of it is luck. A lot of it is timing. A job opening for an on-air meteorologist at KARE is about a once-in-a-decade thing. For that window to open up at that time was great. I had interned there a couple of years before and nobody knew there would be a job opening there in a couple of years. …

Once I went on TV, I started making some goals professionally, and thought the Twin Cities would be a great goal because it’s a big market in terms of TV, and it’s home. It’s great that home happens to be a place where you can be very comfortable professionally, and I thought maybe that was something I could do in my 30s.

SWJ: What has been your most intense weather moments?

SS: Severe weather is very in-your-face. It’s second by second. There’s no planning involved in that. It’s kind of the ultimate test for anyone on air. … This is using your knowledge and applying it to the situation. That’s a very high anxiety level. But all severe weather events are kind of the same in terms of that. Some are really big and you’re going nonstop. … There’s a lot more pressure to get it right with a snowstorm whereas during a thunderstorm, people don’t necessarily expect you to predict where and when the tornado will touch down. They expect a warning of a possibility in this area. But with a snowstorm, people have pretty high standards, and it’s a lot more chaotic than people realize. You take water and you’re multiplying that ratio by 10, and you’re also multiplying the potential for error and difficulty of forecasting by 10. And that’s something you see coming for days. … And I think because you do plan for it, and it’s known about in advance, the expectations are higher.

SWJ: What about your relationship with viewers? Do you get a lot of feedback and people stopping you all of the time?

SS: Yeah, it depends on the day and where you are. Generally, it’s always good that I have seen. Everybody gets a bad e-mail now and then, but I’ve been very fortunate — knock on wood — that most of what I have seen has always been pretty nice. I appreciate that, as anybody would.

SWJ: I know you’re a big runner. Are you training for a marathon?

SS: I’m training for the Twin Cities Marathon — my second Twin Cities Marathon. I run around the lakes. I run in rural roads. I try to switch it up. I don’t run in any same area, or any same route. Part of why I run is I actually find it fun, but you need to liven it up — just like anything, just like the weather. I’m always fascinated by the weather, but you need to change the seasons occasionally, otherwise it gets redundant.

SWJ: Don’t you think people here are kind of obsessed about weather?

SS: It’s the reason that people watch the news in this market, frankly. Yes, occasionally there is a big local news story, but much of why people are watching the news is their local weather. People especially in this market don’t just want the forecast. They want some extra value. They want to learn a little something from it. And that’s where a good or a bad on-air meteorologist can come in is by making it interesting. Because you had to think on your feet. You need to be creative. “You ask yourself ‘What’s interesting about this pattern this day that I can talk about?’” It’s not just a sunny 92-degree day. There’s always something. Every meteorologist has a weather philosophy about how they present the weather. Do you blow it out of proportion all the time like some people do, or it’s kind of cheesy, but KARE has this “calm before the storm” thing. I very much agree with that philosophy — don’t blow something out of proportion until it’s imminent.